To Whom Should I Listen?

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Over the last three weeks of quarantine, a few close friends have reached out to see how I’m doing. Navigating grief and pandemic at the same time is challenging. The uncertainty of this global moment has provoked many emotions that had settled beneath the surface of my everyday life since Rob died. I’ve found the kids and I are a little more tender than usual. We all feel alone in new ways now that we’re homebound indefinitely.

To head off anxiety from isolation and uncertainty, I regularly use the tools I first gained years ago in therapy to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and its accompanying anxiety. I exercise. I eat what makes me happy. I give my thinking brain a rest by watching baking shows and reading books. Most importantly, I do something Rob taught me to do early on: I abstain from the news.

Even though — or maybe because — I was married to a journalist and news junkie for almost twenty years, I have a pretty cynical view of the media. If someone sends me a “must read” article, I’m quick to check the source and the author. Rob taught me to do that years ago. Watching how he pursued stories, interviewed folks, and wrote articles gave me an insider’s view at how news is shaped.

Because of Rob, I know that television “news” is actually just entertainment, that long-form journalism plays an important role in shaping cultural thought. I know that listening to primary sources — in the present case, my state’s department of health and the CDC — is the only reliable way to get information without spin. As an Enneagram six, I’m hesitant to trust anyways; Rob taught me that, when it comes to the news, most of the time I have good reason.

About three or four years ago, Rob decided to cancel his Twitter account. He’d used Twitter to follow media after leaving the industry, but he found that the constant flow of information and spin wasn’t good for his soul. It was a struggle for him to give it up. But, once released from the endless online chatter, his “need to know” impulse began to fade. Rob never became less of a news hound, but stepping away from the constant stream of online news allowed him to listen better to other voices.

Rob was the most inquisitive person I ever met, and he valued words written thoughtfully. What he found in mainstream news was often anything but. He read portions of Barrons and The Wall Street Journal every day and always checked the headlines relating to his work. When he stepped off the online news treadmill, he found it easier to rely on words carefully crafted in books and the quiet language found in nature. Words that required time to temper them, an editor to slowly and carefully hone them. Words found in the silence of mountain trails and alpine meadows.

When I decided to eschew news during the pandemic, I wrestled with my own “need to know” impulse. Fear and anxiety have loud, persuasive voices telling you you’re missing out on valuable information. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, I’ve had to learn how to be the gatekeeper of news for my family. That was always Rob’s job, and I always appreciated his willingness and enthusiasm to do it. I don’t like sifting through the news at all. I miss Rob in this gatekeeper role; he always did it with such grace and gentleness.

Nevertheless, it’s a job I’ve had to take on since he died. It’s taken some practice, but I’ve found ways to get the vital content I need, while staying away from the buzz and hum and rattle of news outlets that don’t promote peace. It is a daily discipline to remind myself that knowing more doesn’t make me safer and knowing less doesn’t make me more vulnerable. It isn’t about amount but about quality.

The Wisdom Pyramid from Brett McCracken

Last week, I read this piece by Brett McCracken, and his visual in particular provided a helpful reminder of the kind of input I want during these weeks of coronavirus, and always actually. The information I receive from Scripture and the church, from nature and books will always fill me more than the endless stream of loud talkers on the Internet and in the news. I have no doubt that Rob would look at that pyramid and heartily agree. It’s the way he had increasingly come to live.

The information I receive from Scripture and the church, from nature and books will always fill me more than the endless stream of loud talkers on the Internet and in the news.

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